Source: Bloor West Village BIA
December 6, 2012 – The Bloor West Village BIA congratulates our own Mr. Alex Ling for having been chosen to receive a commemorative medal to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. In recognition of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, medals are being awarded to worthy Canadians for their contributions or service to their fellow Canadians, to their community and to their country.
A public presentation for the medal recipients and their guests in the riding of Parkdale-High Park will take place on January 20, 2013.
Mr. Alex Ling is the founder of the first Business Improvement Area in the world (Bloor West Village BIA), is the longest serving BIA board member in the world (over 40 years, 24 as chair), and is also the founder of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA).
By Jennifer Yang
Back in 1970, a group of businessmen knew they had to do something to keep Bloor West Village alive. Their idea was to start Toronto’s first BIA.
The year was 1970 and a novel idea was taking shape at the Petit Paris, a Bloor St. W. bakery popular for its cream cakes.
In the back room, a group of local businessmen would gather to chat quietly over coffee and sticky buns. Two men remained fixtures in the ongoing conversation: Neil McLellan, who owned a jewelry store on Bloor St. W., and lawyer William (Bill) Whiteacre, who had recently run for parliament.
Everyone was worried about area businesses, which were rapidly losing customers to the lure of suburban shopping malls. The Bloor line had also just been completed and every time the subway rumbled underfoot, it was a painful reminder of the potential customers no longer passing storefronts on the streetcar.
But Whiteacre and McLellan were incubating an idea: to start collecting taxes from ailing businesses and use the money to promote local commerce and beautify the area. In other words, they wanted to create a business improvement area (BIA) to enhance the image of the stores along Bloor St. W. between Jane St. and Runnymede Rd.
The pair persuaded several businesses to support the idea but many people were skeptical, to say the least.
“The first person I went to was Bill Dennison, who was mayor at the time,” Whiteacre recalls. “He said, ‘Let me get this straight, Bill. Are you trying to tell me that these guys want to pay more tax?’ I said, yeah!”
This Saturday, Whiteacre attended a celebration commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Bloor West Village BIA. On May 14, 1970 — shortly after Whiteacre baffled the mayor with his proposal — the City of Toronto passed a bylaw designating the boundaries of Bloor West Village as a businesses improvement area. The plan was subsequently approved by the Ontario Municipal Board, making Bloor West Village the first BIA in Canada.
Today, countless neighbourhoods have replicated the concept, including communities in Japan, Germany and the United States, according to current BIA chair Paula McInerney. Toronto also has 71 BIAs across the city now, with the most recent addition being Kensington Market.
The BIA concept is simple: have the city collect an annual levy from businesses, hand over the funds to an elected board of volunteers, and then use the money to market the area and improve the streetscape.
The first initiative for the Bloor West Village BIA forty years ago was to string lights on the trees and install flower planters on the sidewalks. The small cosmetic changes were enough to draw Alex Ling, a Hong Kong immigrant and gift shop owner, to the village.
“I drove by Bloor West one evening and I saw the lights in the trees and the flower boxes and everything,” he remembers. “And I said wow, what a nice place. I want to have my store here.”
He relocated his store, Ling’s Importers, to the intersection of Bloor St. W. and Beresford Ave., where it still stands today. Ling also eventually succeeded Whiteacre in becoming BIA chairman, a position he retained for 24 years.
Today, the “small village in a big city” is a bustling strip where people wave hello on the street and shoppers can find everything from a butcher to a barbershop. Roma Zyla, a retired teacher, moved out of Bloor West Village when she was four but still returns to the area every week.
“I just love the area, there’s everything here,” she said while buying $1 coasters from Ling. “I’m just drawn to this area.”
Zyla bemoans that smaller shops are getting driven out by ever-rising rents, however. Indeed, Ling says he bought his store for $51,500; today, he thinks he could probably sell it for a million at least.
McInerney acknowledges that part of the BIA’s job is to change with the times. She now owns McLellan’s old jewelry store.
“It keeps it vital,” she says. “My favourite saying is, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about we.’ It’s about the whole neighbourhood.”
And certainly, big-name chains have moved in to the area, with Starbucks rubbing shoulders with mom-and-pop cafes. The street lights are now powered by solar panels and the flower planters are also on their way out, soon to be replaced by flower baskets that will hang from faux “gas” lamps.
And what about the Petit Paris, where it all began? A sleek hair salon now stands in its place. As for Whiteacre, he no longer works in the area either but continues to marvel at how the neighbourhood has flourished.
“I’m amazed,” he says. “It’s a far cry from the moribund thing it was when I took over.”
Source: City of Toronto
March 3, 2005 – Mayor David Miller and Councillor Bill Saundercook (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) joined leaders of Toronto’s small business community this evening to honour Alex Ling, founder of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA). Ling played an integral role in establishing thriving business communities in many Toronto neighbourhoods.
“Toronto’s unique and vibrant neighbourhoods and districts are represented by BIAs that owe a great deal of their success to Alex Ling,” said Mayor David Miller. “Congratulations to Alex for his vision and initiative that created an environment where BIAs continue to thrive and play an important part in our local economy and are the driving force behind our neighbourhoods and communities.”
In honour of Ling’s volunteerism and activism throughout the past 30 years, a dedication ceremony was held as part of the evening’s celebrations to name the fountain at the corner of Jane and Bloor Street the Alex Ling Fountain.
Ling championed Canada’s first BIA, Bloor West Village before founding the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas. The Association currently boasts 50 BIAs with four more currently in development, making it the largest cluster in North America.
More than 20,000 businesses and property owners are represented by BIAs. The City and BIAs together have committed to spend $4.5 million for streetscape improvement projects in 2005. As well, BIAs spearhead community safety and crime prevention programs to enhance the commercial and residential desirability of these areas.
“BIAs are a wonderful example of how the City and its communities are working together to revitalize our streets, beautify our neighbourhoods and strengthen our city, one community at a time,” said Councillor Saundercook.
The City of Toronto recognizes the importance of BIAs and values their contribution to the city’s economic health and well-being. Toronto Economic Development, through its Small Business and Local Partnership office, delivers a variety of programs and services to BIAs. This includes BIA start-up, development and strategic business planning, as well as financial assistance for street and sidewalk improvements, tree lighting, banners and festivals.
Source: City of Toronto
Mayor David Miller and Councillor Bill Saundercook (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) joined leaders of Toronto’s small business community to unveil the plaque that displays the name of the fountain, which reads:
In appreciation for his continued dedication and
tireless volunteer service for over 30 years to
Bloor West Village BIA, the community and beyond.
City of Toronto – signed by Mayor David Miller
Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas – signed by John Wakulat, President
Bloor West Village BIA (Canada’s First BIA) – signed by Paula McInerney, Chairperson